4 Min Read
By Michael Holden and Wisam Mohammed
BAGHDAD, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Thousands of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party will get their old jobs back under a new law announced on Sunday, a move Washington sees as vital to the country's stability.
Parliament passed the "Accountability and Justice Law" last month, winning praise from the United States for helping promote reconciliation between majority Shi'ites and minority Sunni Arabs who were dominant under Saddam.
The law affects tens of thousands of Baath party members, many of them Sunni Arabs, who were fired from government jobs after Saddam was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, fuelling a long-running insurgency against Iraq's new Shi'ite rulers and U.S. forces.
Washington introduced "de-Baathification" under U.S. administrators in Iraq, but acknowledged it went too far.
Iraq's presidency council, which has to ratify all bills passed by parliament, said the new law was going ahead despite objections from Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab member of the three-man council.
The law, which must now be published in an official newspaper to take effect, is part of wider efforts to end a political deadlock that saw the main Sunni Arab bloc pull out of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government last August.
Attacks have fallen sharply in Iraq partly due to security crackdowns and deployment of an extra 30,000 U.S. troops, but U.S. officials warn that the worst of the violence could return unless more political headway is made.
Last Friday saw Baghdad's deadliest attacks since April when 99 people were killed by bombings the U.S. military said were carried out by two women who appeared to be mentally impaired and duped by al Qaeda in Iraq.
A statement from the presidency council said it had been debating the law but discussions did not finish within the 10 days allowed by the constitution to review such legislation.
That means the measure becomes law automatically because the council did not specifically reject it. Besides Hashemi, the council consists of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd and Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
"Although we respect parliament, this law is contrary in many articles to what was agreed by political leaders," the statement said, without citing the articles.
"The presidency council has reservations about several articles which could obstruct national reconciliation and may not be in line with the democratic process."
Allowing some middle and low-ranking Baathists to return to work is seen as a benchmark for drawing disaffected Sunni Arabs more into the political process.
But Hashemi said late last week he would not back the legislation because it would force many people given jobs after the invasion out of those posts, something the council statement acknowledged. For example, some 7,000 security officers could lose their jobs.
Many ex-Baathists have already rejoined the military and the civil service in the absence of the law and there have been suggestions they could be purged a second time.
In an apparent move to placate Hashemi, the council said it would suggest amendments to the newly passed law. Parliament would then have to vote on those amendments.
Ahmad Chalabi, a former deputy prime minister and head of the committee which drew up the law, said on Saturday it would be hard and time-consuming to get further amendments passed.
"I believe that people who voted for this law who are now objecting to it should have considered this before they voted," said Chalabi, a secular Shi'ite. For a factbox on the new law, click on [ID:nL0318247] (Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Caroline Drees)